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Football World Cup: Fans pour into Russia!

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KAZAN (Russia): World Cup fever is finally taking hold in Russia, where wild enthusiasm in provincial centers such as chilly Kazan is filtering through to Moscow ahead of Thursday’s opening match in the capital.

While curious locals have clamored to see the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar, it has proved a slow build-up to the June 14-July 15 showpiece, which is being held in Russia for the first time.

The tournament opener featuring Russia and Saudi Arabia at the imposing 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium has so far failed to capture the imagination of Muscovites, although they have warmly welcomed foreign fans.

Groups of South American supporters with drums and whistles took to the streets around Red Square this week, posing for pictures with shoppers.

In response, a small knot of local fans gathered, waving flags and good-naturedly chanting “Russia, Russia”. But it has been outside the capital where enthusiasm for the beautiful game has really taken hold.

Australia was pleasantly surprised Monday when a crowd of 3,200 turned up to see Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk put the Socceroos through their paces in Kazan, a two-hour flight east of Moscow.

A public holiday gave fans the opportunity to show their support at Australia’s state-of-the-art training complex in the capital of the semi-autonomous Republic of Tatarstan.

Relevant pieces published earlier: 

i) Less than 24 hours after the Spanish football team’s coach Julen Lopetegui proclaimed that he would take over as Real Madrid coach for the forthcoming season he was shown the door by country’s football federation.

ii) Germany landed here today to attempt to successfully defend their World Cup title and hoping to leave the political controversy surrounding Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan behind them. The intent is clear – Germany wants to become the first team for 56 years to retain the World Cup. “We want to write history,” says Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos. The Germans took off from Frankfurt in pouring rain hoping captain Manuel Neuer will stay fit after eight months on the sidelines with a foot fracture. Their buildup was dogged by the controversy surrounding Ozil and Gundogan after the midfielders, who have Turkish roots, were booed in pre-World Cup friendlies for meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Premier League stars met Erdogan in London last month with Gundogan handing him a signed Manchester City shirt with the message “to my president”. German fans took a dim view of the perceived divided loyalty by booing the pair in a friendly defeat to Austria. Gundogan has said the meeting was not politically motivated, while Ozil has refused to talk about it during the World Cup. (Published on 13th June 2018) 

iii)  Former World Cup winners Spain and debutants Panama arrived in Russia on Thursday for the 21st edition of the global football spectacle. The pair and Saudi Arabia complete a trio of teams to have made it to Russia one week before next Thursday’s kickoff in Moscow. Spain won the World Cup in 2010 and are one of the tournament’s favorites. They remain unbeaten in 19 matches under coach Julen Lopetegui, who took over the reins following the 2016 Euros. Spain was seen off personally by King Filipe VI and will play their final warm-up against Tunisia on Saturday by their base camp in the southern city of Krasnodar. The Spaniards launch their campaign with one of the more anticipated group stage matches – a June 15 clash against Iberian rivals Portugal in the 2014 Winter Olympics host city Sochi. The winner will be in pole position to come out on top in a Group B that also includes Morocco and Iran. Panama snuck past the United States and Honduras to clinch their first World Cup appearance on a dramatic last day of qualifiers in the CONCACAF region. Panama will have to score more upsets to progress in a Group G that includes Belgium and England as well a highly touted Tunisia side now ranked 14 by FIFA.

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Ronaldo still part of Portugal team!

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MILAN: Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted Saturday that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key part of his national team despite being left out of his Nations League squad after the European champions became the first team to advance to the semi-finals of the competition.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner spent much of last month vehemently denying allegations of rape and was dropped by Santos for the Nations League internationals amid accusations by former model Kathryn Mayorga that Ronaldo raped her in 2009, just before he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United. “There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote today,” said Santos, referring to the message the Juventus player sent to wish his teammates good luck via Twitter. Portugal booked their ticket to the semi-finals next June after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Saturday.
They progressed top of Group A3 with one match to play, dashing Italy’s hopes in the process. “The qualification confirms the quality of our football,” said Santos. “I thought it would be a great match and instead especially in the first half, we had a lot of difficulties. “After the break, I explained to them what was happening, and the game became more balanced.” Portugal host relegated Poland in three days in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side. But Santos insisted: “The final match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our public, who are always with us. “We have to play well and to win.”

 

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Qatar Football World Cup: FIFA boss says 48 teams ‘feasible’!

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Qatar Football World Cup

KUALA LUMPUR: FIFA president Gianni Infantino said expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams was “feasible” on Wednesday, as hosts Qatar pledged to come to a decision in the early part of next year.
Infantino said “Why not?” bring forward the expansion from 32 teams to 48, which is currently due at the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
“We have decided… to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48,” Infantino told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur.
“It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?” he added.
Infantino said an expanded tournament would see Asia’s allocation rise from 4.5 places to 8.5, raising cheers from the delegates assembled at a luxury hotel in the Malaysian capital.
“You will have (a bigger) chance. It is possible. It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope we have it happen. We always have to try,” he said.
Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar’s task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert state in 2010.
Qatar has also been involved in a stand-off with neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.
Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organizing body, told AFP that Qatar was studying the 48 teams proposal and would make a decision before qualifying gets underway.
“We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide a feedback in the future,” he said.
“But it will be decided before the qualifications… sometime in the first quarter of next year.”
He added that preparations remained on track despite the blockade and that the budget of $200 billion for the entire infrastructure, including metro and expressway, has not been affected.
“We are very happy and excited with the progress. It is on track. By 2020-2021 all our (eight) stadiums will be ready,” al-Thawadi said.
“This is the first World Cup in the Middle East and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together and contribute to the process of healing,” he added.
Ahead of FIFA’s presidential election next year, Infantino said 180 out of the 211 federations had given him their support.
“You know there is an election coming. I have announced I will be a (presidential) candidate. I have received over 180 letters of support,” he said. “And when it comes to Asia, only a couple are missing.”

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Football: Spanish La Liga table

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Spanish La Liga table after Sunday’s early match (played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):

Barcelona 10 6 3 1 28 12 21
Atletico Madrid 10 5 4 1 12 5 19
Espanyol 10 5 3 2 14 8 18
Alaves 9 5 2 2 12 8 17
Sevilla 9 5 1 3 20 12 16
Valladolid 10 4 4 2 9 7 16
Levante 10 5 1 4 16 15 16
Getafe 10 4 3 3 10 8 15
Real Madrid 10 4 2 4 14 14 14
Celta Vigo 10 3 4 3 17 13 13
Girona 10 3 4 3 12 14 13
Real Sociedad 10 3 3 4 12 13 12
Real Betis 10 3 3 4 5 9 12
Valencia 10 1 8 1 7 8 11
Eibar 10 3 2 5 10 17 11
Athletic Bilbao 10 1 7 2 11 15 10
Villarreal 9 2 3 4 7 8 9
Leganes 10 2 2 6 8 15 8
Rayo Vallecano 10 1 3 6 10 20 6
Huesca 9 1 2 6 7 20 5

 

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